Day 23: Forlì – Popolano

Distance: 51.8 km

Time: 2 hours 47 minutes

Average speed: 18.57 kph

Cumulative distance: 1262.99 km

Cumulative time: 59 hours 13 minutes

Word of the day: ‘colline‘ (coll-een-eh) – hills

After a relaxing evening in Forlì we turned in and set the alarm for a reasonably early start. We were out, breakfasted and on the road by 9:45, which seemed like an achievement. We rode first to the Rocca di Ravaldino, the fortress where Caterina Sforza so memorably thwarted her family’s enemies. It’s also known as the Rocca di Caterina Sforza, in fact as we stood taking some pictures this morning a local stopped to chat and described it thus. Given that women did not own property in those times, and that it had been given to her husband and then inherited by her son (for whom she was regent), it’s a testament to her fortitude that it’s her name which it bears now. It’s quite a thing, inside a larger set of walls which now also enclose a modern prison.

It’s sort of inside a roundabout, so we rode around it in one complete circuit, and then headed off.

The first part of the route today was familiar from yesterday, albeit in the opposite direction, so we re-passed yesterday’s fruit salad of crops, enjoying all the little quiet roads for a second time. After Faenza the road began to turn upwards, just very slightly, but enough to feel the tension in the legs, as we properly propelled the tandem rather than just nudging the pedals to keep momentum as we’ve been doing on the flat for so many days.

It was impossible to ignore the Apennines today. We’ve been cycling along them for a couple of days. Admiring them from afar. Or possibly pretending they’re not in our way. Today, though, we knew we had to point the tandem in their direction, finally, and start our crossing. Tomorrow’s the big day, but today would be a good early workout for the climbing legs.

We stopped for a drink, and then requested water refills from a local green grocery shop – on such a hot day with some climbing to do we were determined to remember to drink regularly. With just 20km to go, the ascent started properly, it was only a gradient of three percent or so, but we knew we’d be climbing gently to the end of the day. It was too early for lunch, so we decided to do another 10km and then find somewhere to eat.

Short of our target we saw a bar serving a ‘fixed menu’, but carried on, possibly a mistake, in hindsight. We pushed on, it was very hot, and there was no shade, and no sign of habitation coming up. We drank more water whilst we pedalled along, and eventually, hurrah, San Cassiano, and a bar.

We sat inside, rather pink and leaking from every pore!

We munched some focaccia and drank gallons of water, while a group of cheerful and friendly older gentlemen gathered at one of the other tables. They were intrigued as to our climbing ability on the tandem, and when we countered with our greater velocity downhill, they were keen to advise us to watch out for each ‘curva’. Which of course we do. They were playing ‘Sette Bello’, a whist-like card game our Italian teacher Carla taught us many years ago. It was provoking much vigorous debate!

After lunch, and feeling both much restored and a little foolish for not having stopped at the first bar, we set off with just 7km to go to tonight’s lodgings, an apartment at an agriturismo. The scenery was spectacular on all sides, and even with the mildly scary view to the proper mountains ahead, it was a fabulous final leg.

We checked in, took care of some bike maintenance and laundry obligations, showered, and hit the pool.

It’s a stunning place, 300m up in the hills, near Marradi which, we are told by our friendly and engaging host, is famous for its chestnuts. He told us that although the area around Forlì, where we were last night, is known for its fruit, especially its peaches, the kiwi fruit growing is a relatively recent activity, perhaps just in the last twenty years or so. It seemed to be on the increase too, we saw several new plantings along the route yesterday and today.

The agriturismo has a barbecue, so our plan tonight is to grill something delicious. We have been given carte blanche (carta bianca?) to raid the vegetable garden too.

We’ll need to include plenty of carbs, to fuel for tomorrow’s climbing. It’s two big mountains to get over, basically. So one might also say that fifty percent of the day will be going downhill.

This is where it gets serious!

Here’s today’s track.

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